Firestone pullout potential fiasco for IndyCar Series

March 11, 2011
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Just as things were looking up for the IndyCar Series, it could be facing a serious blowout.

Last week, Tennessee-based Firestone Tire Co. announced it is exiting the IndyCar Series after the 2011 season.

That really shouldn’t come as a big surprise on the heels of the tire maker’s departure from Formula One in 2010.

Still, IndyCar boss Randy Bernard is left scrambling at an inopportune time, as the series plans to introduce a new chassis and engine package for the 2012 season.

Bernard spent this week meeting with tire company executives and team officials to get the issue ironed out.

It’s true that life is a lot easier to judge out your rear-view mirror than your windshield, but IndyCar officials who were in place before Bernard should have insisted on a two-year contract termination notification from Firestone, not one year.

Firestone is a badly needed stable element as the series plans to begin testing on its new chassis and engine in July.

It would appear Bernard has nearly four months to get this problem solved. But in reality he has much less time than that.

It takes eight to 10 months to develop a serious race tire, especially one that can handle running the Indianapolis 500. Tire failures at Indianapolis can be fatal.

And it costs about $6 million to develop a tire. Of course, development can be fast-tracked to a degree. But that could add another $2 million to $4 million to the price tag. At any rate, motorsports experts said July testing is in serious jeopardy.

Given all that, Bernard really has less than 30 days to find a new tire supplier. There’s no way a tire maker is going to roll out a new tire for the IndyCar Series without first testing at Indy. And, in case you hadn’t noticed, it gets cold and wet here come October.

Bernard said finding a new tire supplier a “top priority.” I should say so.

The predicament Bernard finds himself in leaves him in a horrible negotiating position. He’s looking for another tire manufacturer to do what Firestone does, but that may be difficult to get given how little time he has to get the deal done.

That’s probably why team owners are screaming to get a one-year renewal with Firestone regardless of the cost.

But Bernard can’t simply ask Firestone to extend its deal another year, or even buy tires from Firestone, because the new engine and chassis package likely will require a re-worked tire, and Firestone isn’t about to invest to develop a tire in a series it is exiting.

To make matters worse, the IndyCar Series is losing more than a tire supplier. It’s losing its biggest booster—morally, and more importantly, financially.

Motorsports business experts said Firestone poured $7 million to $8 million annually into marketing the series. That’s at least as much as Izod pays to market the series as its title sponsor.

Talks between IndyCar and tire makers Goodyear, Hoosier Tire, Cooper, Avon, Continental and Pirelli (which replaced Bridgestone/Firestone in F1 this year) are in high gear. But the question is, how many of those companies can afford to—and are willing to—support the series the way Firestone has?

And there’s another serious issue: Firestone, as part of its deal with the series, provided teams with free tires. That saves teams an estimated $750,000 annually.

It’s not certain that a new tire provider would be willing to do the same, and that’s an expense many IndyCar teams—already worried how they’re going to pay for new engines and chassis—would have difficulty swallowing.

There’s an ugly alternative for Bernard. Push back the new chassis and engine formula until 2013 and buy the current model of IndyCar Firestone race tires next year while a new tire is being developed. Like I said, ugly.

For Bernard, this next 30 days is where the rubber meets the road.

  • Will 2012 ever come?
    I propose that the series will delay the new car until 2013...that's why the 2012 Firestone plea so they can find a suitable tire manufacturer.

    With no chassis, no engine, no tires...2012 will be lame duck or worse...

    Let's all hope that the F grade for Randy Bernard isn't again for FAILURE. But it looks that way...
  • Firestone reversed there desicion to leave

    Well the good thing is that your behind an Alabama paper. Bad thing is that your in Indiana and still can't write a decent article about IndyCar.
  • Firestone
    Sorry, Anthony, but your attempt to paint Randy in the corner with this piece was just trumped by Firestone's agreement to stay in IndyCar through 2013!
  • I think
    Firestone should stay on until 2014 while another supplier say Hoosier or Cooper develops a tire in the Lights series.

  • Nice timing of rip job
    Nice timing of story, Anthony, with Firestone staying in series through 2013. Behind the game again, and knowing next to nothing about auto racing.
  • Sorry Chief, once again your rumors of the demise of Indycar are grossly exagerated. So since Firestone pulled out of F1, are you also predicting their demise?

    Still would love to see Hoosier get involved.
  • HA!
    Anthony - I'm guessing you've never actually spoken to Randy Bernard. Considering you are the only reporter in motor sports who sincerely doubts his abilities. Guess he proved you wrong again... Chief, how do you like them apples! Pretty sour aren't they!
  • I am greatness....
    2013 - I will take my A+ Thank you
  • Can't stop laughing...
    Not only that they are returning, but for two years none the less. Chief and Anthony get a big "F" as in FAIL!

    I think IBJ should consider pulling out of the Anthony Shoettle blog business.
  • Don't Blame Anthony
    I don't see how we can blame Anthony. He's just trying to make a name for himself as a journalist. He's trying to piece together that one big prediction that gives him and his career credibility. He just needs to find a new horse to ride. Randy Bernard is too tough a Bronco for Andy to tame.
  • Stupendous
    Money talks and BS walks...ask Al Spreyer.

    In the end, a dedicated sponsor and advertiser will be just a TIRE SUPPLIER. Concessions were made by the IRL to 'ink' this deal....of the $$$ variety. And Indy Lights et al is still title searching.

    So, a lifeline has been tossed to the iceberg stricken Titanic known only as "IZODIndycarSeries" (or IRL). And that continues to show what a pathetic series it continues to be. Bottoms up IRLer's, your invisible series PLUS the Most Important Race nobody Cares About is rapidly approaching. Randy still F grade.
  • really
    why was Randy scouring the planet for B team f there was nothing to worry about. thanks again Roger for saving the speedway from itself
  • HA!
    Burns doesn't it Chief? Go ahead, let it marinade for a minute. Take it like a man.

    "I propose that the new chassis will be delayed till 2013 blah blah blah..."

    Proposal DENIED! Take a seat! Preferably in the dark corner of the room where you can snivel and whine about why no one agrees with you.
  • the beeping you hear is Chief backing up the hate train and trying to change direction once again.
  • snickering
    Another 'blog entry' by Anthony, another public display of making himself looking foolish. Ever notice he never conducts any interviews himself, just 'lifts' the quotes from somewhere else? Then interjects his usual negativity and opinion which more often than not is proven wrong. Umm, Anthony, you need to keep up and pay attention, Firestone reconsidered and signed back on through 2013. bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!

    And what real purpose would be served and what would be gained by pushing back the date for the new cars & motors? You obviously haven't thought this out either. Contracts have been signed, wheels are in motion and 'big-players' already in place. You can't just push back the date on this like a 'blog' entry of yours. Not to mention that the series is already using 8-year old cars with a single engine supplier that contributes greatly to the stagnation the series has experienced.

    You continually make yourself look foolosh when you write anything about IMS or the IndyCar Series. Why do you continue to try and appear informed or as if you have a credible opinion whan all you do is make yourself look just the opposite? You need to write about something you're a little more educated on because it's apparent IndyCar is not it.
  • To Mr. Schoettle\'s Credit
    He would have to be delusional and disfunctional, like you, to truly comprehend IMS and the IndyCar series.

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